By Randy Renner
Thunder forward Serge Ibaka didn't score the most points Friday night but he probably prevented more points from being scored than anyone else on the floor.
While most folks figure Kevin Durant has the Most Valuable Player Award wrapped up, Ibaka let his play lobby for him being named Defensive Player of the Year as the Thunder blitzed past the New Orleans Pelicans 116-94.
"I thought Serge was spectacular tonight," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told reporters after the game. "He had eight blocked shots and I thought he altered probably 10 others."
Some of those eight swats truly were spectacular.
In the third quarter Pelicans guard Austin Rivers stole the ball then raced the other way down the sideline. Away from the play Ibaka took off and ran right down the middle of the court heading for the rim and beat Rivers to the spot blocking his shot.
The move had fans on their feet and amazed reporters shaking their heads along press row.
Ibaka had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds to go along with the eight blocks.
Kevin Durant led all scorers with 27 points and Russell Westbrook added 24 and seven assists.
The Thunder got off to a bit of a slow start defensively, allowing the Pelicans to hit almost 70 percent of their shots in the early going but a 22-8 run from late in the first quarter through the early part of the second gave OKC a double digit lead, the defense became suffocating and the Thunder never looked back.
"I thought our defense was really good through the first three quarters," Brooks said.
In the third quarter the Thunder played DEFENSE with capital letters allowing the Pelicans to score just 15 points on 16.7 percent shooting.
That defense sparked the offense all night and led to several fast breaks. The Thunder blitzed past the Pelicans in transition outscoring them 28-0. The Thunder were 12-for-15 in transition and the Pelicans couldn't do anything to stop it and couldn't get and out and run themselves. They were able to get out in transition just three times and missed all three shots.
So the Thunder did exactly what they needed to do against a short-handed, overmatched opponent and a lead that ballooned all the way out to 34 points allowed for Durant, Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha to sit the entire fourth quarter. Ibaka only played a couple of minutes in the fourth.
The only bad news was the Spurs rallying to beat Phoenix and securing the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
With their win (the 58th of the season) the Thunder reduce their magic number over the Clippers for the second seed to just 1 with three games left to play for both teams.
The Thunder now embark on the last back-to-back set of the regular season, at Indiana Sunday afternoon and at New Orleans Monday night.
Brooks confirmed that Westbrook would sit out one of those games but declined to say which one, "I'll tell you at the appropriate time," he said smiling as reporters laughed at what has become the stock answer to Westbrook's playing status.
Of course he probably doesn't need to say it because it doesn't exactly take a Zen master to figure out Westbrook would be more valuable against the Pacers Sunday than the Pelicans on Monday.
Tipoff is set for high noon on Sunday and you can see it on ABC. be sure to begin your day though with our Gameday Blog early Sunday morning.